Is There Really Equality in the Art World, or Is History Repeating Itself?

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Cecily Brown, born in 1969 in London, is a contemporary painter who lives and works in Manhattan, New York; today, she is one of the few living female artists whose artwork sales command over the million-dollar mark. Brown’s painting style that pastiches the Gestural Abstract Expressionism blended with her subject matter of sexualized content has been her oeuvre’s consistent motif since she began her professional career in the late-1990s. Her oeuvre is not representing a new genre of imagery nor is it standing in the shadows of the original New York Abstract Expressionists of the 1940 and 1950s, all of whom had long passed. Instead, her oeuvre represents an emerging trend of signifiers—“the female artist”—and signified—sexual and graphic subject matter—in New York in the late-1990s. Her art was innovative because it flipped the body politics of identity and desire and subverted the male gaze. Or was it so innovative? Brown’s oeuvre is a pastiche of the abstract expressionist movement—the most masculine of art genres, sexualized imagery—adopting the male gaze, and painting—which through the nineties was considered dead—to position herself as one of the world’s most expensive female artists on the market. I suggest that society’s attitude toward art has not been as progressive with female equality as one would think. To be one of the world’s greatest female star artists, she must look to the past and represent what has been canonical to arts’ history.